HM on Location: How Material Bank connects buyers, suppliers

PALM BEACH ISLAND, Fla. — A Boca Raton, Fla.-based company is connecting design suppliers with designers, architects and procurement professionals across North America, and taking new steps to expand its reach into new markets and new technology.

At the Hotec Design conference held last week at the Breakers Palm Beach, Material Bank Chief Business Officer Farshid Tafazzoli introduced his company to the 89 buyer delegates and 149 supplier delegates, emphasizing the value the platform can provide to both sides of the design table.

Citing a 2017 Interior Design Universe study, Tafazzoli said 39 percent of a designer’s day is spent sourcing products and materials. “Sampling was slow, it was inefficient and it was quite wasteful,” he said of the days when designers would request samples directly from suppliers, receiving multiple boxes over several days. At the same time, online retailers like Amazon have made the idea of next-day deliveries standard for the average consumer. “But in our business lives, we didn't have these pragmatic solutions,” he said. 

Mixing and Matching

Material Bank was founded in 2019 by Adam I. Sandow as a marketplace for design professionals and brands in the architecture and design industry. The company lets full-time designers and architects search, sample and specify materials that can then be delivered overnight in a single box. By supplying all of the samples from a single 400,000-square-foot warehouse in Olive Branch, Miss., close to FedEx’s Memphis, Tenn., hub, the company can get all requested pieces to designers in a few hours. The box turns into a United States Postal Service package for returns, and Tafazzoli estimates that the company has saved more than 2.3 million packages or more than 100,000 pounds of waste from going into landfills by consolidating and reusing the materials.

The company now represents more than 500 brands and powers between 70 and 90 percent of brand manufacturer leads. The service is free for the 90,000 member architects and designers (although Tafazzoli emphasized strict criteria for membership, with nearly a third of applicants rejected), and vendors cover the costs of the samples that go out each day. In May, Material Bank secured $175 million in Series D funding led by Brookfield’s technology investment arm Brookfield Growth, bringing the company’s total funding to more than $325 million. “I don't think there's another industry player that's positioned like we are in this business,” he said.

Most recently, Material Bank acquired Architizer, a database of architectural projects and a source for architects, interior designers and landscape architects. Architizer has 900,000 registered users including 335,000 architects and 25,000 firms as well as a database of more than 3 million architectural images from 86,000 projects, showcased alongside building products from 31,000 manufacturers. The projects can be used as case studies for the real-world application of different products including materials, furniture and lighting. The acquisition links Architizer’s design resources with Material Bank’s specification tools to help simplify design decisions. 

Next Steps

Material Bank is poised to begin operations in Japan by September or October, with the warehouse already up and running. After Japan, the company will expand to Europe, with a warehouse next to FedEx’s hub by Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. “We'll be able to also provide some of the very same brands that are coming from the U.S., but also a whole new slew of brands that are international in scope,” Tafazzoli said. “The world of design is global. The pain points are global. And so what we've done here and been able to solve at scale certainly applies to other countries.” 

Closer to home, the company is set to launch an update to its website in September. Inspired by the mood boards of Pinterest, Material Bank 2.0 will help designers sort through their interests and needs, letting them specify specific images of different kinds of furniture in multiple colors. “We wanted to load this inspiration engine with installed images from the brands, magazine archives [and] historical archives,” Tafazzoli said.

The company is currently scanning historical magazines and books that are no longer under copyright in order to include vintage images that could inspire new designs, he said. “Let's just say you're looking for European wallpapers from the 1800s. You're gonna type in that search, you're gonna get a lot of European wallpapers from that era, and you can go through so you find your source of inspiration.” Users can then find similar products from the company’s supplier partners and request a sample to examine the next day.  

“Our new slogan is ‘Design Starts Here,’ because we absolutely believe that this is a game-changer for this community,” Tafazzoli said. 

Hotec Design is produced by Questex Hospitality, the parent company of Hotel Management magazine.